With Rosh Hashanah arriving on the heels of Labor Day, and it likely being your first in-person Jewish holiday gathering since the start of the pandemic, it’s not too early to start thinking about ways to make this Jewish New Year’s celebration particularly meaningful and festive.
Cooking coach Debbie Kornberg, a Jewish National Fund-USA board member in California, is the owner of Spice + Leaf, a company specializing in curated spice blends that brings Mediterranean flavor and flare to home cooking, and teaches “Spice It Up with Deb” cooking classes.
This year, Debbie is focusing on her own Rosh Hashanah holiday meal, as well as the cooking demo she recently hosted with JNF-USA (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ6aIbygBFU). The theme of her cooking class revolved around telling our stories through Jewish fusion cuisine.
As the high holidays rapidly approach, Debbie offered some suggestions for you to put your own twist on the age-old traditions of the holiday.
Mix It Up
Despite having 100% Ashkenazi lineage, Debbie describes her cooking style as “Ashke-Phardi.” She says that she was first drawn to Sephardic cooking because of the variety of spices that are heavily featured, including cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and turmeric.
“In the global society that we’re living in, we can embrace other Jewish traditions even if we didn’t grow up with them ourselves,” she says. “There’s something to be said about embracing all Jewish cultural traditions.”
Jews from Libya mix sugar and sesame seeds to symbolize a year of plenty, because the grains are so tiny and numerous that they can’t be counted. Pomegranates are also a popular symbol at Rosh Hashanah time because it is said that the 613 seeds represent the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah. [See the recipe for one of Debbie’s favorite Rosh Hashanah dishes, Pomegranate & Mint Baked Salmon.]
Upgrade Your Apples and Honey
Dipping an apple in honey is the custom most closely associated with Rosh Hashanah. Debbie had a number of suggestions for stepping up even this most basic element of bringing in a sweet New Year.
“One of my favorite things to do is to have a honey tasting at the table,” she says. “Honey’s flavor is naturally infused by the type of flower that the bees pollinate.”
Orange blossom honey, for example, has a very light flavor with hints of citrus, while avocado honey and blackberry honey have more depth of flavor. Silan, or date honey, has become more readily available in American supermarkets over the last several years, and holds a special place in the history of the Jewish people. Many scholars believe the “honey” in the phrase “the land of milk and honey” is actually silan, because of the abundance of date palm trees in the ancient land, like the one JNF-USA brought back to life after 2,000 years.
Silan is also a great vegan option for any guests who don’t partake in consuming honey from bees. Debbie also suggested making a family apple picking trip a part of your preparations. With literally thousands of varieties of apples to try, there are endless combinations for your holiday table.
Take a Moment to Start Fresh
Each year, Rosh Hashanah brings an opportunity for a new start and to take account of our actions over the past year. Debbie says that in addition to apologizing to those we care about and performing the ritual of tashlich—symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year into a body of water—this Rosh Hashanah presents a unique opportunity to add our own special reflections or to be grateful for our post-pandemic (and vaccinated!) blessings as we start the new year.
“This Rosh Hashanah, I’m looking forward to celebrating and to having a house full of people,” she says. “For more than a year, our community was limited to Zoom, and while I’m proud of how we embraced that, we are really a people that needs to be together in person.”
Learn From the Pros
Recently, Debbie presented a virtual Rosh Hashanah cooking experience, “Telling Our Stories Through Jewish Fusion Cuisine,” in partnership with JNF-USA which featured special guest, Israeli celebrity chef, Lior Lev Sercarz. Sercarz who authored three award-winning cookbooks, is the spice blender and owner of La Boîte, a biscuits and spice shop in New York City, and serves as the Chief Culinary Officer of the Galilee Culinary Institute by Jewish National Fund-USA (GCI by JNF-USA).
Participants at the virtual cooking demo learned how to prepare two Jewish fusion-themed side dishes to help you and your family ring in the Jewish New Year with a delicious modern flare.
Pomegranate & Mint Baked Salmon
By Debbie Kornberg, JNF-USA Board Member in California
2 pounds salmon (skin removed)
1 Tbsp SPICE + LEAF Salmon Blend
1/8 tsp Kosher salt
3 -5 garlic cloves, chopped
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
1/8 cup honey
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp soy sauce (for a gluten free version, substitute with coconut aminos)
1-2 Tbsp SPICE + LEAF Galili Olive Oil
1/2 lemon (one good squeeze over fish after it’s cooked)
3 Tbsp fresh mint + 1 Tbsp for garnish, chopped
½ pomegranate, de-seeded for garnish
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) In a bowl, mix all dry spices together. Rub spice blend on salmon. Place salmon in a glass baking pan.
3) In a second bowl, combine garlic, pomegranate molasses, pomegranate juice, soy sauce, honey, olive oil, and mint. Whisk together well. Pour sauce over fish.
4) Bake for 15-20 minutes. When done, squeeze lemon on top of fish. Garnish with small lemon slices, pomegranate seeds, and remaining chopped mint.
Rachel Jager is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.